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Opinion

Canberra Raiders: All time greatest 17!

Mal Meninga (Photo by Getty Images)
jammel new author
Roar Rookie
6th May, 2022
35

The Canberra Raiders have been in Australia’s premier rugby league competition since 1982 – that’s 40 years!

There’s been three grand final triumphs – 1989, 1990 and 1994.

There’s been three further grand final appearances – 1987, 1991 and 2019.

And there’s been many legends! The 1994 Green Machine team will go down as one of the greatest (and most entertaining) teams of all time.

In this article, I pick my all time greatest 17 for the Canberra Raiders!

It is helpful to note some criteria which I’ve used: (a) a player who dominated an era would have dominated another era, (b) a player who succeeded in a position would have succeeded in that position in another era (noting rugby league is an evolving game – eg second rowers now play wider as “edge” forwards) and (c) the first rugby league game I ever watched was the 1989 grand final! So my genuine, first-hand Raiders knowledge began then!

Certainties

The “locks” in my all time greatest Canberra Raiders 17 are:

Mal Meninga at #4

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He’d play right centre in my team. Big Mal will be my captain and goal kicker.
Laurie Daley at #6

Daley is my all time favourite player and in my opinion the greatest Raider! He won the Dally M (1995). Daley was inspirational, scored “big” tries in key moments, and was exceedingly tough in defence. With a player like Daley as your five eighth, Jack Wighton, Terry Campese and Chris O’Sullivan don’t get a look in.
Ricky Stuart at #7

Ricky was vital in the golden era; he ran that side, as evidenced by Canberra’s crumbling in 1993 following Stuart’s broken leg versus Parramatta at Bruce Stadium. Stuart won the Dally M that year and the Clive Churchill in 1990. Stuart controlled a game with his strategic kicking (in a pre-40/20 era); he also made those amazing “40 metre” lateral passes. With a player like Stuart as your halfback, Ivan Henjak, Mark McLinden and Todd Carney don’t get a look in.
Brad Clyde at #13

Clyde is a legend of the game – he had a massive work rate, scored tries and changed rugby league; as a super-fit “modern” player, he was invariably the first forward back to take the initial hit-up. Clyde won the Clive Churchill in 1989 and 1991.

With a player like Clyde as your lock, Dean Lance and Alan Tongue don’t get a look in.

Steve “Boxhead” Walters at #9

Did he ever make an error?! Seriously, some more recent fans talk about Josh Hodgson as being better – but it isn’t even close for me. In my opinion, Walters was the best hooker of the modern era pre-Cameron Smith (ie better than Danny Buderus, Ben Elias, Simon Woolford and Steve’s brother Kerrod!)

The rest of the starting 13

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The contentious starting positions are:

Fullback: Gary Belcher, Brett Mullins, Clinton Schifcoske or Josh Dugan

I choose Belcher as the complete package over many seasons – a rugby league “Mr Consistency” who could create tries as well. Mullins was unplayable in 1994 – he had one of those 2-3 month epic periods like Hayne in 2009 or “Tommy Turbo” in 2021. Fans will always remember Mullins’ “miracle” double-chip try against Brisbane in 1995 and his four-try “marathon” against Newcastle in 1994. Don’t worry – Mullins is in my 13 (just not at fullback!)

Wingers: John “Chicka” Ferguson, Ken Nagas, Noa Nadruku, Brett Mullins and Sean Hoppe

“Chicka” scored the greatest try in the club’s history in the 1989 Grand Final (“Picked up by Daley, Daley’s given it onto Ferguson…!”)! But I choose Nadruku and Mullins. Noa had power and speed; he was the top try scorer in the competition in 1993 and 1996. Mullins just has to be in my starting 13!

Left centre – Peter Jackson, Ruben Wiki or Jarrod Croker

I’ve only seen a little of Jackson’s play but I choose Wiki in any event. As a forward, Wiki was an NZ great, but he was best as a centre in Canberra in my view. I’ve gone with the 1994 Ruben Wiki

Apologies to Jarrod Croker.

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The Raiders celebrate a NSWRL premiership

Steve Walters, Ricky Stuart, Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde and Brett Mullins of the Raiders celebrate after winning the 1994 ARL Grand Final between the Canberra Raiders and the Canterbury Bulldogs at the Sydney Football Stadium, 1994 in Sydney, Australia. The Raiders won 36-12. (Photo by Getty Images)

Second rowers – Gary Coyne, David Furner, Jason “Toots” Croker and John Bateman

I choose Jason Croker on the left and David Furner on the right (Furner had that massive right foot step!) Jason Croker was a try scoring winger/centre during the first half of his career, and a tireless second rower during the second half. Furner won the Clive Churchill in 1994 and would be my back-up goal kicker.

Props – David “Nana” Grant, Sam Backo, Brent Todd, Glenn Lazarus, Paul Osborne, John Lomax, Quentin “Q” Pongia, Tom Learoyd-Lars and Josh Papalii

I choose Glenn Lazarus and Josh Papalii to start. Both are club legends (despite Lazarus only playing 92 games for the Green Machine). I’d have Brent Todd and Sam Backo on the bench, although it’s a really close call especially with Lomax (who was inspirational as Raiders’ player of the year in 1994).

Bench

My vital bench is

Jack Wighton – he can play five eighth, centre, fullback and in the forwards if necessary. Wighton’s the perfect utility in this team of legends. He won the Dally M (2020) and the Clive Churchill (2019)
Brent Todd
Sam Backo
John Bateman

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Greatest 17

1. Belcher
2. Nadruku
3. Wiki
4. Meninga (c)
5. Mullins
6. Daley (v)
7. Stuart
8. Lazarus
9. Steve Walters
10. Papalii
11. Jason Croker
12. Furner
13. Clyde

14. Wighton
15. Todd
16. Backo
17. Bateman

It goes without saying, but Tim Sheens is the super coach.

Conclusions

The Raiders have won three grand finals in our 40-year history. While that’s better than, for example, Cronulla (1 in 55 years), Penrith (3 in 55 years) and Newcastle (2 in 34 years), we do need another Grand Final victory!

Hopefully the Green Machine triumphs again shortly – with a new cohort of players being immortalised in the Canberra Raiders’ all time 17! ???? Soon!

What do you Roarers think?

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